Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The biggest political story of the last quarter-century has been the decline and fall of Louisiana's most popular — and talented — politician. His legacy still haunts us.
by Clancy DuBos
Dave Treen was officially Louisiana's governor when Gambit appeared on the scene in 1981, but former Gov. Edwin Edwards clearly dominated the state's political landscape. Whether he was tossing verbal darts at Treen before an enamored Capitol press corps or torpedoing Treen's initiatives before a compliant legislative committee, EWE tweaked his Republican successor incessantly while plotting his own return to power.
In 1983, he coasted back into office and into Louisiana lore -- only to begin a slow, tortured downfall that culminated with his conviction on federal racketeering, fraud and money-laundering charges in 2000.
Nearly four years after he reported to prison, Edwin Edwards still casts a long shadow over Louisiana. We may be seeing its twilight, but even now we are living in the Edwards Era. How else to explain the rest of the world's perception of us as corrupt?
Who better to hold up as an example -- or an explanation -- of that perception? Both in law and in fact, Edwin Washington Edwards has been the governor of Louisiana for most of the past 25 years.
Both Edwards and Louisiana have paid a heavy price for their long, drunken embrace. He sits rotting in jail, losing one appeal after another -- the latest only weeks ago. His young trophy wife has divorced him and is publicly involved with someone else. His son Stephen, also convicted in the racketeering case, likewise sits in jail.
Louisiana, meanwhile, sits waiting, like Longfellow's Evangeline, for help to arrive from the federal government in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Precious little help has come thus far, held up mostly by Congress' reluctance to send billions to a state that it considers disorganized, corrupt and fiscally undisciplined.
And that's just the latest bad news. For the past 25 years, Louisiana has languished at the bottom of the "good" lists -- literacy, high school and college graduation rates, median household income -- and owned the top rung of the "bad" lists -- pollution levels, cancer rates, infant mortality rates and teen pregnancy rates, just to name a few.
To be sure, many of those ills predated EWE's tenure as governor, but for one man to dominate a state's political culture for a quarter-century without making a dent in such serious social problems is telling -- particularly when the rest of the South has made huge strides forward in that same period.
All of which makes the case for Edwin Edwards' decline and fall as Gambit Weekly's top political story of the past 25 years.